Eternity in an Hour

I cannot believe how much has happened over the last couple of days. It feels like I’ve lived a week since Monday night.

The big news this week was Tropical Storm Franklin, which has just gotten upgraded to the first hurricane of the 2017 season and is battering gulf coastal Mexico from Campeche to Veracruz. Mérida and Progreso were on the outskirts of the path, so we really weren’t expecting much to happen. I still made sure Monday night to shut down with all my appliances fully charged so that if I woke up to no power and internet, as Franklin was supposed to roll in over night, I’d be set. I also arranged for a light work day.

Well, Franklin wound up being a dud here. I’m really glad I did not stress out about it!

But… 3:30 yesterday afternoon, I lost power.

It wasn’t until almost 8:00 that I realised that I was the only one on the block without power, clueing in when I saw the streetlights and my neighbours’ lights on. I called the solar guy and he said that all I could do was call CFE (the power company) and he gave me the emergency number and walked me through the steps.

The number has been down for a solid 24 hours. I never managed to reach CFE by phone. I tried the Progreso office this morning and the two times someone picked up, they let me say about three words before saying, “No hablo ingles,” and hanging up quite rudely. Wow.

I did, however, make contact with them via Twitter, of all things. Last contact was at 8:45 when they asked me for my service number.

I had a fitful night because the power would come on for about 30 seconds every few hours and it kept waking me up even though I had turned off most of the breakers. I didn’t want to shut them all in case the power did come back so that the fridge would turn on.

When I finally got up at 7:45, I saw a message from CFE at 7:00 saying that they had dispatched crews to my area.

I was sure I knew what the problem was. The house has new “smart” meters that have very low tolerance to low voltage situations, even if they’re not at brownout levels. Over a series of exchanges on Twitter, I learned that this was what was happening and that others with smart meters in my area were also affected. So I knew not to expect a work crew at the house.

Somehow, I got through a ridiculous amount of work today. I kept the phone and computer charged through the truck battery. Get this — TelCel had gifted me a whole GB of data, so I didn’t have to pay anything for the bandwidth that got me through last night and most of today! I’m pretty sure TelCel has my business for life at this point.

It was about 5:20 when the power started to come on for 30 seconds and then shut right off. This went on until about 5:45, literally as I submitted my final job for the day, and then the power finally seemed ready to stay on. I let it go for a bit, then turned on the AC in my suite. All seemed good. My UPS (uninterrupted power supply) for the computer is advises me of power issues and said that all was good so I eventually turned on the other units.

What was frustrating during this outage is that the property has a grid tied solar system that was useless to me. My friend Shane wrote a very informative bit about grid tied solar and why it is incompatible with batteries. I’ll post it in the comments for those who are interested. Thanks, Shane!

Needless to say, I needed a cold beer after this and was very grateful to have La Barca within walking distance. I had a really surprisingly good burger with XX Ambar that helped restore my mood immensely.

Now, while all of this has been going on over the last 48 hours, I’ve also been organising a marathon house viewing schedule tomorrow! I’m seeing three houses for sure, five very likely, and possibly six!

First up is a house in Montecarlo (seriously, I really am moving up in the world, LOL). The exterior made me realise that I need to add covered parking to my List and the location is probably too far northeast, but at $7,000 a month, it will be worth a look. It has one of the better kitchens I’ve seen, with tons of counter space, a double sink (!), and no grimy cabinets. It unfortunately has those floors and that wall colour throughout, which is doing nothing for it.

The agent for this one has two nicer houses to show me, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to fit them in before my next appointment. They are $10,000 a month each, so it would be interesting to see what the extra money will get me.

The next house is also up there price-wise at $9,000, but by far the best location so far, right by the main north-south street (Calle 60) and the northernmost edge of the neighbourhood is only 5KM from the heart of Centro. This is the first house that I’m going to see that I think could be my first hard consideration. It also suffers from unfortunate blandness, but has some nice built-ins.

I’m curious about the third house as there are no inside photos. The agent says that it has the layout I want, but is “small.” That might actually be a good thing. Many of the houses I’m looking at are way more house than I need! This one is in Campestre, which many Mexicans have told me should be where I would be happiest. I dismissed the neighbourhood last year as being too far north, but now it’s in the running. The outside looks cute and it’s only $6,500.

Finally, there is a house that I may not be able to see until the weekend, but they’ll try to fit me in late tomorrow afternoon. So far in my house search, I’ve gotten butterflies in my belly twice, and this house is one of them. The first house that caused those butterflies is not available. This one is. I had a very definite idea in my head of what I wanted my first real Mexican home to look like and this house is the first I’ve seen that matches that vision, as evidenced by this room:

Look at those windows and doors! This is a house built for this climate.

It is way more house than I need (three bedrooms and two baths upstairs, maid’s room with bath and a study on the ground floor!) and $9,000 a month, but it speaks to me and I will not ignore it.

These houses all represent such a variety of prices, styles, and locations that I should feel ready after to make an educated decision and to start asking about things like internet service in the neighbourhood. Tomorrow is going to be a huge day, but I’m glad I’m going to fit in so many viewings!

A Classic Canadian Recipe

The house cleaner normally comes on Wednesdays, but asked to come a day early this week. That worked out super well for me because I had the appointment to see the house in Mérida today, I had to pick up a package at a Walmart (clear across town, though), and I was able to take the day almost completely off (just had to do a little non-transcription work first thing and I’ve also been emailing with clients this afternoon).

I keep on top of the house cleaning between cleaner visits and the house is generally pretty neat, but there are always a few things to tidy up before he shows up and I need to make him a lunch. That took about 30 minutes this morning. He’s technically supposed to be here at nine, but usually shows up at 9:30 or 9:45ish. That doesn’t bother me at all. I just make sure Puppy is tied up from about 9:15 onward so I don’t have to chase him when it’s time to go open the gate. By that point of the day, he’s had breakfast and exercise and is ready for a snooze anyway, so he doesn’t mind being restrained.

Or so I thought…

I no sooner had the gate open this morning so I could take Moya out that Puppy was making a run for it. Get this — he had been chewing his leash around the knot for some time to weaken it and he finally got it to where  it came loose and it was time to escape! Thankfully, I caught him before he got far. I didn’t know whether to scold him or reward him for being such a clever dog. I had such a laugh about it.

Once he was secure, I caught the phone ringing. It was about another house I want to see in the same neighbourhood as the one I was seeing today, but, unfortunately, it would not be possible to see it until next week. The lady will be in touch. I am getting a lot of phone practice!

My cleaner arrived then, so I gave him a few instructions and headed off to the Pensiones neighbourhood of Mérida, which I’d never been to before.

The appointment was at 11:00 and I arrived at about 10:40. I walked around a bit, liking what I was seeing in terms of the mix of houses and businesses nearby. Figuring that the owner wouldn’t show up till well past 11:00, I went to the very nearby Las Americas mall (Scotiabank, Chedraui, Soriana Hiper, Office Depot, Sears, tons of restaurants all just a few blocks from the house!) to wait in AC. So the neighbourhood won me over completely. The only thing that I didn’t check on were bus routes. Everything else was there within a half kilometre radius of the house.

At the mall, I texted the guy to say that I was in the area and he said that he was literally pulling up to the house and where did I want to meet him? Him being exactly on time was not part of my plan for today, LOL. I texted that I’d be right over since I knew where the house was.

The house was definitely not welcoming. It had an imposing façade with a hideous grill and the only outdoor space is what I call a prison yard (cement walls and slab). I do like those boxed in houses because they’re very secure — you can leave your windows and doors open when you go out for the day, but this was a rather ugly take on the concept.

Inside, the house had two bedrooms, one upstairs and down, but there was a bonus room (no closet) on the ground floor that could be an office. That was a deal breaker for me because the office and my bedroom need to be upstairs for more light and better air circulation.

There was a very nice roof area, though, with quite the laundry setup and they would have put in a palapa for shade.

I will say that condition wise, the house was pretty gross, but I know that a scrub and a fresh paint job would have taken care of that. The guys who showed it to me even said that the intention is to rent the house, give it a thorough pressure washing inside and out, then paint with colours chosen by the tenant close to move-in time. So the condition wasn’t a deal breaker. I really loved the brick floors. So many houses have beige or white tile floors. The seating area in the living room that needs cushions was a neat feature.

The stairs did turn out to be terrifying. They come up to a landing with no rail and sheer drop. I could just imagine myself coming out of the bedroom in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, forgetting to turn, and ending up in the living room with two broken legs.

So while the house had a lot of things going for it, I was glad that the layout made it an absolute nope so I can take it off the table. It was totally worth visiting for learning about the Pensiones neighbourhood!

It was then time to head to City Center to pick up my package at Walmart. Thankfully, that was quicker and easier than expected since I could take the periférico. I’d had my package sent there since that’s the Walmart closest to home for me, but there was one right in Pensiones, doh!

I got to Walmart and was accosted by some guys offering vehicle cleaning services. I negotiated for a basic wash and buffing of my lenses and was impressed that they had paperwork for me to fill out. It was probably pricey at $200, but Moya was disgusting and I was spared having to do the job myself or hunting down someone.

Getting my package was fun. “Punto com” (dot com) and Walmart stores are not affiliated. The gal who takes care of orders was off for her two-hour lunch and not available to find the package for me despite there being a sign that packages could be picked up between nine and eight. A manager took over and found a clerk familiar with the loading dock to go hunting. He came back after quite some time with my box. I then had to tell him he needed to look for a pink binder with a form that would have the order details and that we would both have to sign and he’d need to write down the number of my ID. Good thing one of us knew what to do! A different manager had helped me with this order and had another item with my box that I might be interested in, which I was. So since I had to go wait at a till, I figured I should pick up more dog food. Pit bulls eat a lot!

My truck was ready by the time I came out and I was very pleased with the service I got. I then decided to get an ice cream in lieu of lunch, but was lured into a La parilla (The Grill) restaurant by the wonderful smell of grilled meat. There, I ordered their special “Hawaiian” tacos with pork, bacon, cheese, and pineapple. The meat mixture and toppings (one spicy red sauce, raw onions and cilantro, sautéd onions and chile, guacamole, lime) were all en pointe, but I was disappointed that I’d been brought wheat tortillas. I complained and was told that they’re the default for those tacos since they’re based on “a classic Canadian recipe” (ie. ham and pineapple pizza). I laughed almost as hard at that as at the dog’s escape this morning. Lunch was very good and I’d definitely go back to La parilla.

I was done in after that (really need to rethink my stance on not getting the truck AC fixed) and headed home.

The cleaner was still working on my suite, so I did some outdoor chores that have been lingering on my to-do list. There is a lot to do here and I’m on top of all the stuff that matters (like watering the garden and adding chemicals to the pool), but have gotten behind in the last few weeks with the weeding and vacuuming the pool. I got the weeding under control yesterday and vacuumed the pool today. That’s a bit of a vicious cycle — sand gets in the pool when I add water from the well, but then vacuuming takes out water and I have to add more. Since I know it’s just well sand and not real dirt, I don’t worry about the pool bottom looking absolutely pristine every day, but I do keep on top of skimming and emptying the filter. I’m surprised by how easy the pool has been to maintain!

The list of chores here has been really good for me because it’s been a good practice for when I have a full size home again. I don’t find it burdensome at all and I have such a wonderful home to enjoy! Yes, I’m eager to get back into my own space and to live walking distance to everything, but there’s so much to savour here and I’m loving how my summer is turning out. I can’t believe it’s already August!

The Game Is On!

The last two and a half months of ludicrous work hours have paid off. By the time all the July and straggler June receivables come in in the next week or so, I’ll be in a position to start house hunting!

I found what I thought could be The House on a real estate website and contacted them some weeks ago. They happened to get back to me tonight. Funny timing!

They actually caught me while I was out for dinner. Monday has normally been curry night, but the curry place is taking a break. 🙁 (They did make that a bit easier on me by sharing their recipe for The Best Peas I Have Ever Had.) I decided to take a chance on La Barca de Chelem, the hotel/bar/restaurant a couple of blocks away that I’ve been purposely avoiding all this time (they are way too convenient). But I was in a celebratory mood and had already budgeted the money to eat out.

I showed up just past five, too late for lunch, way too early for dinner, but they said their restaurant is open all day. The menu had a pretty good variety of things with prices being so-so (Yucatán has generally been slightly more expensive than Sinaloa). I was a little annoyed at myself for settling on a burger, but there were onion rings on the menu and the pairing would be nice and I also wanted to know if there’s been a decent burger within walking distance all the time that I’ve been here…

With my order, I requested a beer. Their selection was dismal, so I settled on a Tecate and then went out to the pool area to wait for my food.

My onion rings came out first. I was surprised/pleased that the server made sure I knew this was ranch dressing rather than mayonnaise since I’d declined the latter on my burger. I found the rings a bit doughier than I’d like (I like my onion rings really crispy), but the veggie within was perfectly cooked. This could have been dinner on its own and totally worth the $40.

The phone rang just as I finished up with them and I caught just enough to understand it was a guy from the property management company. I replied, “I understand, but, please, my Spanish is so-so. I’ll need you to speak slowly.” He agreed and then informed me that the house I was interested in isn’t available. However, his tone about that changed when I told him I’m looking for October and would be open to a two-year lease…

But he pushed on and asked me what parts of the city I’m interested in, how many bedrooms I want, what amenities I’m looking for, do I want furnished or not (fridge and stove would be nice), and my budget. This last one was where I knew the guy wasn’t leading me on and would be willing to work with me. This is because I had no idea what the hell a presupuesto is and he took a second to figure out how best to reformulate that with “What price per month do you want to pay?”

We chatted for close to 10 minutes and then he said he’d have a look and send me info on what what he found that could be suitable for me. Sweet! Now, you might be surprised that I’m willing to go with an agent, but I think I prefer going this route. Yes, I will likely pay a bit more than if I was renting directly from an owner, but things will be done by the book. Plus, an agent can do all the leg work for and I can just show up and see what he’s found. There is so much available on the market right now that it’s a bit overwhelming. Once an agent has a clear idea of what I want, the selection pool will get much smaller and I’ll save a lot of time. I thought I’d be able to take public transportation into Mérida ($), but the buses are always full so I have to drive ($$$).

My burger came out just as the conversation ended. The server had brought me my mustard in little packets that he had actually cut open for me. I was very dismayed that the burger was amazing — great bun, real beef with spices (and so juicy!), and real cheese that was brown and crispy on the edges, plus lettuce, tomato, and onion. The fries that came with it weren’t worth touching, though, and I was glad I’d had the onion rings. Thankfully, this burger was $80 so while it would be cheaper than curry ($150), it’s still too expensive to be a regular lunch the way Patti’s incredible $40 burger and fries were on Isla!

Happy and sated, I headed home to do some chores, play with my dog, and begin to dream of the Home that I have finally begun searching for. It’ll be hard to be renter again after so many years of being a homeowner, but it’ll be way better than being a house sitter. Living in other people’s spaces is fun for a while and a great way to travel on the cheap, but you’re never really home and it gets wearing after a time. At least here, I have some of my own furniture and, of course, most of my own personal belongings (including kitchen equipment), so that makes things much easier (there are no words for how much I love my desk!).

I can’t believe we’re a week to August and I only have two full months left here!!! Of course, I’ll be here most of October, but I should have keys by then and soon as internet is set up, I’ll likely work there a few days a week so I can start receiving furniture deliveries and do other tasks to make sure the house is all ready for me by the end of the month.

July was a bit of a rough month and I know I need to get out and start living a bit beyond the walls of this compound. August should be an interesting. The way things are going, I will have to make a real effort to slack a bit because nearly all my clients wish they could keep me busy full-time! It’s really great to be in that sort of position and to be choosing how much money I make in a month (to a point) rather than sitting around waiting and hoping for work to come in. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point and I’m incredible proud of myself.

Well, it’s time to jump in the pool. How spoiled am I? 🙂

 

Decisions Made for Me

I slept in late this morning (past eight) and was lying there on my new sheets comfy as can be thinking that I really should go feed the dog when I heard my phone ping, telling me that I had a text. It ended up solving the dilemma I had about my day. I had only a small easy job to do, so I was torn between hanging out at home and catching up on a few things or heading to Mérida to have lunch in centro.

Well, the text was from the gal who had sold me the sheets. She makes a lot of typos, uses slang, and does not use punctuation, so I had no idea what it said! I ran the message through Google Translate and it gave me a suggestion for one of the words that I did not recognise that ended up being the message’s Rosetta Stone. So I texted back to confirm that she had been unable to get towels for me, but had the two bathrobes and five face cloths. I also asked for four more pillow cases and if I could meet up with her around eleven. If so, that would be my excuse to go into Mérida.

She said that she had everything and that eleven would be perfect as her husband had to run errands. He would be waiting for me outside the Oxxo. I did some chores, played with the dog, dressed, and headed out around 10:30. I stopped for gas and then headed straight for the meet up, arriving around 11:02. Her husband was waiting for me! He was clearly in a hurry, thrusting a bag clearly marked with the contents into my hands and accepting the payment.

I then headed back to the highway to go into Mérida, stopping at the Liverpool to use the Scotiabank ATM… which was GONE. *sighs* There is no other Scotiabank ATM that is such easy access when I come into the city. 🙁 I decided to push on to the Office Depot, near where I planned to drop the truck and then take a bus into centro, where I knew there were several Scotiabanks. Well, I ended up passing one near the Home Depot that wasn’t on either my GPS or Google’s list! I only spotted it because of the logo on a tower. At any rate, it was easy to access with on street parking. Not a great location, but better than some of the others I’ve seen.

I had a reason beyond office supplies for dropping the truck off at the Office Depot, but we’ll come back to that. I parked behind the store and then flagged down some men to ask them where I might be able to catch a bus to centro. They told me right there on the Prolongación Paseo de Montejo and that I’d have the best luck in front of the chicken restaurant (pollería) a ways up. That was solid advice and I soon found myself on a decrepit bus taking the scene route to centro.

Soon as we hit centro, I yelled out, “¡Baja!” to be let off and the driver yelled back that I had to wait till the next stop, which ended up being several blocks away. I was surprised because I would have expected that he’d just drop me while stopped at a red light. More about buses in a bit.

It was lunch time by this point and I really wanted to go back to the Pita restaurant I’d found last year so I could have falafel, but I was completely turned around and couldn’t find any of the landmarks that would have helped me find it. So imagine my delight when I just happened to pass it! I asked to sit in the courtyard and said that I didn’t need a menu. I requested the falafel sandwich, but subbing the mayo-y coleslaw on it for a bit of hummus. Not a problem! I also requested one of their super sour and oh-so-refreshing limonadas.

Like last year, I was brought as a free started some fresh pita with pesto, hot pepper spread, and herbed butter (the link above goes to a post with a better picture of the spreads!). I like all three mixed together.

Here’s my pretty lunch. The salad wasn’t nearly as nice as last year and the dressing had an odd flavour I couldn’t place, but it was still delicious!

The falafel aren’t quite spiced enough, but are close enough to perfection for me to continue to be giddy that I can get a decent falafel in my adopted city!

When the server came to check up on me, I told him about how I had eaten there last year when I was scoping out Mérida and that I now live here and just how happy I am to have a decent Lebanese restaurant within easy access.We chatted a bit longer since there were no other customers.

It started to spit as I finished up and I decided that it was time to head back to my truck. Again, I had work to do in the afternoon, plus a few more errands to run, so it really wasn’t a sightseeing day. Like last year, I had a really hard time getting a bus to take me back north. I find the buses here really intimidating despite having had lots of tips on how to use them. For one thing, it’s completely bull that you can just flag them down anywhere. There are definite stops all over the city, but they are not all marked… and the ones that are marked aren’t all in use!

I finally got on a bus that seemed to be heading near where my truck was parked. I followed our route on my phone for a bit and was grateful to get to about 1.5KM of my truck when we suddenly veered in the wrong direction. Sometimes, buses have really random routes, so I hung on for a bit hoping we’d get back the right way, but once I was more than 2KM out of my way, I asked to get off and, thankfully, was dropped almost right there and was able to just take Calle 17 straight down to my truck. By the way, taking the bus hadn’t been a waste since I did save myself 2.5KM as it was 4.5KM from centro to my truck!

The detour was worth it for passing the Chinese House or House of the 500 (casa china o de la 500). It was owned by a white prostitute who married a Japanese man. 500 was apparently the price of her services. At any rate, the house is magnificent!

It actually appears to be a private residence.

Back in the area of my truck, it was time for the real purpose of my being so eager to get to that part of Mérida, visiting El Fenicio… an authentic Lebanese bakery!

There’s really not more to it than what you see in that picture. There’s a rack with various products on it and there is some baking behind a counter. I was served by a lovely man who made me feel very welcome. I suspect we will get to know each other. 🙂

My treasures for the day were a jar of tahini made on site, a spice mix that is more oregano than sumac, and a huge stack of fresh baked pita. It’s finding a place like this that helps me feel at home in a new city.

I then went around the corner into Office Depot because they were having a sale on some of their headphones. I’d had bad luck buying headphones at the Office Depot in Maz, but some of the prices this week were too good not to take a chance. Of course, the pair I wanted was out of stock, but, get this, the manager offered me another similar pair that wasn’t on sale at the same discount! The ones I got are actually better quality and were still very inexpensive. The first pair would have been about 15CAD with the 30% discount and these were 20CAD. But I still only have a one week warranty on them. 🙁 At any rate, I still can’t believe the manager did that for me!

It was then really time for me to head home, but I passed the Superama grocery store that I’d been told would likely stock Earl Grey tea… and came home with this. 🙂

The had a very English selection of teas! But, like Mega, regular Mexican food was super overpriced. It’s another one of those places I’ll add to my list for unusual items, but not for a full shop. I also found chickpeas and garlic to go with my Costco lemons and the tahini to make hummus. 🙂

I then drove home, where it was raining hard! I feel like I teleported to another world! I went through a puddle so deep that I literally felt Moya starting to float before finding firm ground again. Bit scary and quite a lesson!

At any rate, I got in and gave my dog some love and attention before sorting through my purchases and checking out the linens I’d bought. The gal had included six face cloths instead of just five! The bathrobes are really lovely (logo hidden to not advertise a now defunct hotel), but they don’t have a belt. At $50 each (about 3CAD), it won’t be a big deal to find someone to make me some belts for them.

Here’s a map of my day:

When I was here last year, I identified Barrio Itzimná as a strong candidate for where I might want to live and today pretty much confirmed that I was absolutely right! I’ve come to realise that don’t want to live right in centro because it is way too noisy and will be a pain to drive around in and park (since I’m unlikely to find a house with a driveway). There isn’t much between centro and Itzimná and if you go further, you start to get into surburban hell with the big shopping plazas. Itzimńa puts me right between the two extremes and has all the services I want.

However, it is a very pricy neighbourhood and I haven’t seen much within my price range for rent there online. It will be worth going back out to pound the pavement and see what I can find in its vicinity. I have a pretty solid list of my wants for the neighbourhood I end up living in and today added a pollería! If I’d had my cooler in the truck, I would have come up with a grilled chicken for dinner as I found a really great deal for one with rice and onions. There is a pollería in Chelem, but it hasn’t been open the few times I was in town. I’ll have to ask someone next time if they have the schedule for it…

It was a really lovely day in town. Back to the grind tomorrow. 😀